Archive Review – “Nativity 2: Danger In The Manger” (Director: Debbie Isitt)

Review first published 24/11/12

It’s Christmas and the teaching assistant for St Bernadette’s Primary School, Mr Poppy, wants to enter the school in the “A Song for Christmas” competition.  Trouble is the head teacher, Mrs Bevans (also known as “Auntie Pat”) has refused permission.  So when new teacher Mr Peterson arrives, Mr Poppy puts into motion a plan which includes kidnapping Mr Peterson along with a duck bus, flying donkeys, misplaced children, a twin brother and the return of St Bernadette’s arch nemesis, Gordon Shakespeare of Oakmoor School.

“Nativity!” was a surprise hit in the Christmas season of 2009 given that it was competing against Disney’s “A Christmas Carol” for box office takings.  So, understandably, it was only a matter of time until the inevitable sequel was made.

As in the first film, this is a partially improvised film directed and scripted by Debbie Isitt and the things that worked in the first film are in place here.  However, there are problems with the story in so much that it comes over as a little sterile in comparison to the original film and Isitt tries to do too much with the story with four storylines jockeying for attention which fall flat towards the end, leading to a great deal of padding.

David Tennant (“Doctor Who”) takes on the role of Mr Peterson and as in the case of his predecessor, Martin Freeman, is the lead.  Unlike Freeman’s grumpy Bah Humbug Mr Maddens, Tennant’s main character of Peterson is instantly likeable when it comes to Christmas and as the “new boy”, he doesn’t have the same conflict with Oakmoor’s drama teacher Gordon Shakespeare, portrayed by Jason Watkins, that the character of Maddens had in the first film.

Instead, Tennant has to juggle storylines which include a pregnant wife, portrayed by a woefully underused Joanna Page, a conflict with  his belligerent father, portrayed by Ian McNeice, the main “Song for Christmas” and a rivalry with his composer brother Roderick, player with comical snide and villainy by Tennant.

Marc Wootton returns in the role of the manic Mr Poppy.  As in the first film, Poppy is portrayed as an overgrown man child.  However, a lot of the traits that the character had in the first film have been amplified including his childishness including fart gags and a child-like attachment to Peterson which is a carry over from his attachment to Mr Maddens (including a shrine to Maddens).  This has led the character to become more annoying than lovable.

As with the first film, Tennant and Wootton’s main co-stars are the children who perform as the pupils of the fictional St Bernadette’s.  Unlike the first film, the interaction feels more forced, whether it be because of the fact that some of the children were in the first film or due to the fact that the larger storyline gives less room for the gentle character moments that formed the charm of the first film.

There are some nice comedy moments primarily due to the mishaps which beset Peterson, Poppy and the children on the way to the competition along with the character of Angel Matthews, a parody of  classical opera stars Katherine Jenkins and Charlotte Church, portrayed with humour of diva intensity  by Jessica Hynes.

Ultimately, “Nativity 2” is a bit of a misfire where the charm of the first film for an adult audience is absent and present in fits and starts with an interest for children which could potentially fizzle out for the child audience by the final act, dependent on their age.

Rating: 2.5/5

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